Tag Archives: NASA

Science Sunday – To Mars In a Few Days

NASA 360 released a video about a week ago talking about new propulsion technology that could propel a robotic space probe to Mars in only a few days. To send a larger manned spacecraft to Mars, it would take about a month. That’s a lot better than the few months it already takes to send a space probe there.

How is it done? Lasers. This video introduces the concept, but you have to go elsewhere to watch the full talk.

Here’s the full talk in Seattle last year. There are several videos that cover different aspects of this topic.

What do you think of this topic? Would you like to see this technology happen? Let me know in the comments below.

Top Ten Space Probes that Need to Happen

Continuing on with an astronomical theme this month, in celebration of the planetary alignment, I bring to you another list involving the Solar System. This list is entirely my opinion. I studied astronomy in university, and my main interest was in planetary sciences. We have made some incredible discoveries over the past few years with numerous space probes visiting several worlds in our Solar System. New Horizons was an amazing success at Pluto, Cassini has provided incredible information from Saturn, Dawn brought us wonderful images and information from Vesta and Ceres, and the small army of probes at Mars continue to surprise us. But there’s still so much more to discover. This is what I would like to see in the future in terms of space probes.

Top Ten Space Probes that Need to Happen

10. Eris flyby

Eris_and_dysnomia2With the success of New Horizons at Pluto, the next largest unexplored world in the Solar System is the dwarf planet Eris. It’s more massive than Pluto, but slightly smaller. With a higher density, what does that mean? Why is a world so much farther from the Sun than Pluto denser? Studying this world could help us understand more about the evolution of the Solar System. It’s completely unknown what Eris may look like, but we can take educated guesses. Pluto completely surprised us, and I suspect that Eris will, too. Unfortunately, it may take around thirty years for a probe to reach Eris, so I’d wait on this until we have better propulsion technology.

9. Pluto orbiter

Nh-pluto-in-true-color_2x_JPEG-edit-frameYou’re probably wondering why I would recommend Pluto so soon after the New Horizons mission. Well, Pluto has turned out to be such an intriguing world, one that is active and unique. It and Charon form a remarkable pair of worlds that need to be studied more. With such a variety of landscapes on one side of each world, what surprises do the other sides have? The possibility of a subsurface water ocean means that Pluto has a chance at supporting life. It appears there may be cryovolcanoes that were active relatively recently, as well. The difficulty with this mission is inserting the probe into orbit. Pluto has such a small mass that the probe can’t be traveling at such a high speed when it approaches the world.

8. Venus lander

240px-Venus_globeVenus has been landed on before by the Soviet Venera series of probes, but they only lasted a few minutes to a bit over an hour due to the hot, acidic, and dense atmosphere. A robust lander would need to be developed, preferably a rover. Venus is described as Earth’s failed twin. It had a runaway greenhouse effect that made the surface uninhabitable. While Magellan has mapped the surface and discovered many Earth-like features, a surface probe may help to answer many questions, such as whether Venus is still geologically active, whether volcanoes still erupt, and so on. It would be fascinating to study the geology of the world. Both NASA and Russia have proposals for landers on Venus.

7. Uranus orbiter

240px-Uranus2It’s been thirty years since Uranus was visited by Voyager 2. The sideways ice giant has only been flown by, so no intense study of the world and its moons has been conducted. Uranus is intriguing because of its nearly ninety degree tilt to the plane of the Solar System. We haven’t been able to study an ice giant up close, and Uranus is the closer of the two. It has an interesting group of moons, as well, four of which are larger and appear to feature scarps and canyons. But Miranda has my interest, as it seems to be a small moon that has been broken apart and reassembled. It has a huge cliff, as well. I want to see more of this moon.

6. Ganymede probe

Ganymede_g1_true-edit1Ganymede is the largest moon in the Solar System, and has the attention of scientists because of its likely subsurface ocean. Larger than Mercury, its surface is a mishmash of various features, including craters and grooved terrain. Galileo studied Ganymede when it was at Jupiter, but a closer look would be warranted. I’d like to suggest a surface lander or rover, but an orbiter may be better. The ice crust is so thick that it’s unlikely that the ocean could be examined from the surface. And besides, the surface of Ganymede is quite old. Thankfully, both may be coming true! ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) will be launched in 2022, and will orbit Ganymede, while a Russian proposal to land on Ganymede could be launched in 2024.

5. Venus aircraft

Venus-real_colorVenus appears twice in this list for a very good reason. While the surface needs to be explored, so does the upper atmosphere. The temperature, air pressure, and chemical composition of this layer of the planet may be able to support life. That alone makes Venus’ atmosphere a very good destination. Already, there’s a NASA proposal called VAMP (Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform) that would be an inflatable aircraft driven by propellers. I guess NASA is already thinking about this.

4. Neptune orbiter and Triton lander

244px-NeptuneWith the Cassini/Huygens pair being successful, why not at Neptune? Neptune is the other ice giant planet, and eighth in the Solar System. It has its own large collection of moons, dynamic atmosphere with large storms, and ring system. I’d like to see an orbiter for the planet that explores it and its moons, while a lander is deployed to the surface of Triton. Triton is very interesting and active. It has geysers, a thin nitrogen atmosphere, and possible subsurface ocean. That needs to be checked out.

3. Enceladus probe

PIA17202_-_Approaching_EnceladusThis little world has proven to be a complete surprise. Although small, it is active due to tidal interactions with Saturn. At the southern pole of the moon, there are ‘tiger stripes,’ which have geysers that have been observed venting water vapour into space and back to the surface as a kind of snow. Further study has shown that Enceladus has a global subsurface ocean of water, which makes this tiny world a very important place to look for life. An orbiter might be difficult with its low gravity, but a surface probe sent to the southern region would be very interesting. Both NASA and ESA are considering missions to Enceladus that would ultimately involve Titan.

2. Titan lander and flier

PIA20016-SaturnMoon-Titan-20151113Titan is a high priority for further studies, in my opinion. It’s so Earth-like in appearance and is the only other world in the Solar System with long-term surface liquids. A lander, preferably a rover, could examine the icy surface, possibly near the seas or riverbeds. A flier would fly through the thick atmosphere observing the land below it and sampling the air. It would be nice if both could be done in the same mission, though unlikely. It’s also a candidate for the study of possible life. There are proposals under consideration by both NASA and ESA for landers, balloons, airplanes, boats, and even a submarine.

1. Europa lander

Europa-moonThis is an obvious choice. Europa has the greatest chance of life, according to many people. It has a subsurface saline ocean that could be examined by a lander that drills through the thick ice crust. The implications of finding life there would have a big effect on many people back on Earth. The good news is that JUICE is going to fly by Europa, and NASA has been directed by Congress to develop a mission to land on Europa and do it soon. They want this mission to happen. So, it looks like we’re going to get it.

What do you think? Which of these missions would you be interested in? Do you have others you’d like to see? Let me know in the comments below. Maybe we can come up with some great ideas we haven’t thought of before.

Highest Resolution Ever Images From Pluto

We have some amazing images coming in from New Horizons, and they are the highest resolution images we will see. But this is just the first! There will be a lot more coming. It would be great to post an image, but I won’t do that. Instead, watch this video. And I recommend watching it in full screen at full resolution.

We start off with a terrain that is very light and icy with some craters. But it appears that there’s a dark material in the craters. It appears it’s layered. Probably various ices. It then moves down into a badlands region, which wouldn’t look too out of place on Earth. Then it abruptly moves into a water ice region with polygonal shapes and what looks like a rippled terrain.

The surface of Pluto is absolutely fascinating. You can read the article here on New Horizons’ official page at NASA.

What do you think of this recent image?

Ever Seen a Rocket Stage Separation? Not Like This!

It’s common to see video of rocket stage separations. Rockets have video cameras installed in them so you can watch the separation. Engineers use the video footage to analyse how well the separation happened, and to discover any problems. It’s very useful in failed separations. But take a look at this video of a UP Aerospace launch for NASA to launch the Maraia Earth Return Capsule.

The following video focuses on the separation as viewed from outside the rocket. You can see slow motion, which is quite interesting.

I’ve never seen a stage separation from that angle before. What did you think?

2015’s Biggest Science Story

What do you think is the biggest science story of the year? 2015 isn’t over yet, but I think it’s safe to say that we have a very good candidate already.

My choice is New Horizons at the Pluto system. Pluto was expected to be a certain way, somewhat like Triton, but it turned out to be completely unique. It was unexpected. It’s likely to still be active, since there’s a huge area covered by ices, there are tall mountains, and the colouration is providing a lot of questions. One of the more recent pictures showed the atmosphere over a horizon that was lit by the sun, and the surface shows mountains. This is that image:

nh-apluto-wide-9-17-15-final_0Click the image to see a larger version. Or go here to see the full sized image.

There are still many months of images to download from New Horizons, so we’ll get to see many more surprises over the next year or so.

So, what’s your choice for biggest science news of 2015?

Incredible Photo of Condensation Vortices from NASA

This is just neat. I saw this photo on Facebook, and had to share it.

See the vortices? You may think it’s photoshopped. It’s not. The conspiracy theorist may think it’s the propellers spraying chemicals. They’re not doing that, either. So what is it?

As the propellers spin, they create a low pressure region as the propeller blade moves out of a space, which in turn causes the water in the air to condense. These are basically thin little clouds. Neat, isn’t it?

What was your first impression when you saw the picture?

Beautiful New Image of Pluto’s Moon Charon

The New Horizons mission never ceases to amaze me. The most recent release from NASA about the mission is a full colour full globe view of Charon, Pluto’s largest moon. What you’ll see is a massive canyon down the middle, a red polar region, and what fascinates me is the horizon. It’s not at all smooth, but it shows how varied the surface is. Take a look.

High detail image of Charon in full colour.  Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
High detail image of Charon in full colour. Credits: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

If that isn’t enough, check out this image of Pluto and Charon together in full colour. Just look at how much red there is. Incredible!

Beautiful full colour image of Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI
Beautiful full colour image of Pluto and Charon. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

You can view the full images at the NASA story that I linked to above. However, these are pretty big images, so sorry if they take a while to load.

But they are amazing, aren’t they? It’s going to take a long time until we understand what’s going on there. How did they come to look like that? What processes were involved? And it seems that Pluto is likely to still be active. With so many more months of images and data to come in, we’re just going to have to settle for months of incredible views of Pluto and Charon.

What do you think of the latest images?